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Trojans outmuscle Sentinels in white knuckle showdown

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The Fife Trojans were able to make big plays at the right time in a hard-hitting defensive contest that left hearts racing and Fife fans smiling on Friday, Sept. 26, at Fife Stadium. The Trojans edged the Steilacoom Sentinels 17-14 and the game was in doubt throughout.

When playoff time comes around, there’s a good chance this game will be remembered as one that could have easily went the other way in front of the standing-room only crowd.

The victory moves Fife (2-0, 3-1 overall) to the top of the 2A SPSL standings along with Franklin Pierce, while the loss puts Steilacoom (1-1, 1-3) in a four-way tie for second place.

While the game was fast and hard-hitting, most of the explosive action was delivered by both defenses. For the game, both offenses managed just three yards a play and gave up significant losses behind the line of scrimmage.

Steilacoom received the opening kickoff and brought the ball out to their own 40-yard line. The Sentinels managed a nine-yard run from Brian Thomas, but was otherwise shutout and gave up the ball after being stuffed for no-gain on fourth-and-one.

Fife got a taste of the Sentinel speed on the next play as middle-linebacker Fotu Leiato knifed through the Trojan line and brought down senior running back CJ Polo for a two-yard loss a split-second after receiving the handoff. Two plays later, Polo showed his own speed as he hauled in a pass from junior quarterback Kyle Mozzone for 32 yards.

With the ball at the Steilacoom 11-yard line, Fife couldn’t get the car out of reverse. An illegal motion penalty, two incompletions and a delay of game penalty backed the Trojans up to the 21-yard line. Facing third and 20, Mozzone dropped back and was sacked by Leiato for a 3-yard loss.

Fortunately for Fife, the Trojans have a powerful leg in kicker Omar Murillo and the senior coolly drilled a 40-yard field goal through the uprights with plenty of room to spare. Fife led 3-0 with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter.

Steilacoom opened the next possession with an eight-yard run by Thomas, but went backwards on the next play when quarterback Anthony Leiato tried to make something out of a broken play and lost 12 yards after reversing direction a couple of times. Leiato’s next pass attempt fell incomplete and punter Dearron Anderson sailed a 45-yard punt on fourth down to put the Trojans back on their own 20-yard line.

Noah Miller made two tackles for the Sentinels to open the next series and the Mozzone’s third-down pass fell incomplete. Mozzone’s punt put the Sentinels back on their own 32-yard line.

Steilacoom ran seven consecutive running plays on the next possession, moving the ball out to the Fife 48-yard line. The Trojan defense then went into overdrive, sacking Leiato three times and coupled with an illegal motion penalty, Steilacoom found itself at its own 30-yard line; Two yards behind where it had started the drive. Anderson’s next punt found some extra roll and covered 51 yards, putting the Trojans at their own 19-yard line.

Three plays into the next Fife possession the door opened-up for Steilacoom. While Mozzone attempted a quick pass toward the sideline, the ball actually went slightly backward and was mishandled as a storm of Sentinels converged on the ball. Steilacoom recovered at the Fife 19-yard line.

After working their way down to the five-yard line, Fotu Leiato was met in the backfield by senior defensive tackle Ty’resse Lucero for a five-yard loss. Steilacoom followed-up with an illegal motion penalty and now faced third and goal from the 15-yard line. On the next play Anthony Leiato rolled to his left and found Brendan Raschke open for the touchdown. Steilacoom now took the lead at 7-3 with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter.

The Trojans next possession sputtered and Mozzone was forced to punt. Steilacoom brought the ball back to its 44-yard line and looked to capitalize on its building momentum. Five plays later they were at the Fife 32-yard line and in sight of the end-zone once again.

Fife answered with a sack by Tyler Paulino for a nine-yard loss on third down and a sack by Tanner Knapp and Lia Faletogo-monis on the next play, turning the ball back over to Fife.

The Trojans would drive down to the Sentinel 28-yard line before the half, but came away with zero points as Murillo’s 35-yard field goal attempt sailed to the right.

On the opening possession of the second half, the kickoff was mishandled and the Trojans were lucky to recover the ball on their own three-yard line. Fife then went to work on a 14-play, 97-yard drive capped by four-yard touchdown rush over the left side by Polo. A fourth-down pass-interference penalty on Steilacoom kept the drive alive for Fife. Polo ran in the two-point conversion and Fife now led 11-7 with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter.

Steilacoom answered immediately on its next possession. Thomas burst up the left sideline on the first play and sprinted 50-yards before being taken down at the Fife 17-yard line. Four plays later, Steilacoom was at the one-yard line with a first down. Thomas burst up the middle for the score and Steilacoom retook the lead 14-11 with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter.

The next three possessions resulted in a Fife punt, a Steilacoom punt and another Fife punt. On the fourth possession, Steilacoom took over at its own 30-yard line. The Sentinels looked to be chewing-up the clock and ran nine plays down to the Fife 34-yard line.

On the next play, Raschke tossed a swing-pass to Thomas who bobbled the ball. The ball was in the air and out of his reach as linebacker Tyler Paulino swooped in for the tackle and suddenly the ball was in Paulino’s belly and the junior ran the ball back 64-yards untouched for the touchdown. Fife now led 17-14 with 6:43 remaining in the game.

Steilacoom was forced to punt on the next possession after three plays. Fife took over at its own 38-yard line. A seven yard run by Tanner Knapp and two Sentinel offside penalties moved the ball down to the Steilacoom 45-yard line. On the next play, Alex Paget hit Mozzone just as he threw the ball and the pass was intercepted by Zhar Sanders at the Steilacoom 33-yard line.

The turnover what prove fruitless for Steilacoom as two plays later, Raschke was unable to handle a shotgun snap and Fife senior nose-guard Dalton Bogert fell on the ball at the 29-yard line with 2:57 remaining in the game.

Fife held possession and wound the clock down to three seconds left in the game before turning the ball over on downs to Steilacoom. The Sentinels were unable to pull-off their last-ditch double-pass play as the first toss from Raschke went forward to Fotu Leiato, who was gang-tackled by Fife defenders to end the game.

Fife returns to action on Oct. 4 as they travel to Franklin Pierce Stadium for a showdown with rival Washington at 7 p.m. Steilacoom hosts Clover Park the same night at 7 p.m.